A freak injury would keep England wicket-keeper Ben Foakes, who impressed with his glove-work and defiant batting during the tour to India early this year, out of the two Tests against New Zealand that begins on June 2.
This was after the Sussex player, expected to keep in the absence of the rested Jos Buttler, slipped in the dressing room at the Oval in socks during a drawn county game against Middlesex last week. What’s worse, he could miss the series against India and could even be out of reckoning for the Ashes later this year.
His loss, though, is gain for Gloucestershire’s James Bracey, a 24-year-old reputed for his stodgy batting and reliable keeping. The left-handed batsman who bats at No.3 for his county has been in reasonable form, scoring 479 runs in 11 innings at 47.90 this county season, and is now certain to make his international debut after he was called up as an understudy for Foakes last week.
With England also struggling to nail their front three down, he offers promise on both counts, as a top-order batsman and wicket-keeper, though behind Buttler and Foakes in the hierarchy.
Though he averages just 36, most of his runs were hoarded in the difficult second tier, before he got promoted into the first eleven last year. He was on the verge of making his debut against India, when incumbent opener Rory Burns suffered a back spasm. But he recovered just in time to keep him waiting for his Test cap.
Moreover, he has demonstrated his merits whenever given a break. With the England Lions he scored a half-century against a strong Australia A side before he knocked 85 against a bowling attack that comprised James Anderson, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jack Leach in an intra-squad warm-up game. The impressive outings had him earmarked as a future top-order batsman.
The other two inclusions—-opener Haseeb Hameed and explosive batsman Sam Billings—too were interesting choices. Hameed, still 24, had burst forth as the “Baby Boycott” after his splendid series in India in 2016. England thought they had identified Alastair Cook’s successor, only for his form to tail away in subsequent seasons after sustaining a broken hand in the Mohali Test.
He continued to flounder in county cricket, with his form touching the nadir in 2018, a season wherein he averaged just 9. Snubbed by his county Lancashire, he shifted to Nottinghamshire in 2020, where he steadily regained his touch. A promising start to this season, wherein he has amassed 474 runs at 52.66, sufficed a call-up, albeit as a cover to Rory Burns, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley. But flaky as England’s top order has been in recent times, it would not be surprising if he reclaims his Test stripes sometime this long summer that reaches the crescendo with a five-Test series against India.
The choice of Billings, though, is intriguing. His keeping has not evolved enough to receive summons as back-up keeper, he last kept wickets for England Lions in 2019. His enterprising brand of batting has been at the expense of consistency—he averages 34.29 in 71 first-class games. He has featured in sparse first-class games for Kent in the last couple of years—just one this season (due to IPL) and four in 2019, where he scored 366 runs at an average of 61. Like Hameed, he is unlikely to feature in the series, unless there is a raft of late injuries. There are little doubts, though, of Bracey making debut this time.